Looking at Washington’s Ward 8 specifically, we can see clearly the role that national politics and policies play in determining the environment in which Ward 8 residents will live. For instance, in examining the recent deal to raise the debt ceiling one finds that there is a commitment to cut spending by more than $2 trillion. We also find that there are no increased taxes. In fact, Speaker of the House, John Boehner (R-OH) is quoted as saying the deal was “all spending cuts. The White House bid to raise taxes has been shut down.”
What does this information mean to Joe Citizen who lives in Ward 8? Unfortunately, too many people would suggest that it means nothing. But that can’t be true when we find in comparing Ward 8 to other Wards across the city, disproportionate negative socio-economic levels exist in unemployment, poverty and healthcare and issues. Some say for example that the Ward’s unemployment is actually over 30%; the poverty rate is above 35% (with children in poverty at about 50%); and 71% of Ward 8’s residents are overweight or obese.
The tie between these conditions and the debt ceiling deal should and would be apparent if we just took a moment to look at the two. There are indeed nuances surrounding the deal that should raise flags for everyone, but particularly those poor and working class folks who depend so much on the government. Moreover, no one should gloss over or disregard President Obama’s declaration that this is not the deal he preferred; nor his acknowledgement that “if enacted, this would mean the lowest level of domestic spending since President Eisenhower. The impact on the African American across the country and in Ward 8 is further complicated by the fact that 35% of African Americans have no or negative net worth and near zero in savings. Further still, for those middle and upper-middle class African American workers who have made their livings by working in “good government jobs,” are now “at-risk” because spending cuts will very likely lead to down-sizing the government—meaning loss of jobs to some of those workers, who might not do so well in the private job market.
Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, recently commented that the President is very much focused on “education, strong families and job creation,” particularly in urban areas and in light of all that has happened vis-à-vis the debt ceiling deal and other issues. But what we, the general public, might call attention to is that while education is the “great equalizer,” and we must make major corrections in our education system, and there will also be a need for a more immediate plan to address the needs of those who have long since passed by or through that system and, who are now for whatever reason, under skilled and can not and/or have not been able to hold down a steady job. These are the people who can not wait until even their own children complete at least four years of college, live through an entry-level job pay-rate and finally reach a place of “decent income.”
Earnestly serving these people will absolutely require an infusion of some kind of financial support and investment—not a reduction in whatever help they might already be receiving (a re-direction perhaps, but not a withdrawal); so how a decision was made by elected republicans and democrats to cut funds that should be directed at helping to these people has to be perplexing on the low end and down right angering on the high side. And it is just one example of how national politics and policies can, and often do govern even the most “local” of local issues.
A need that focuses on marrying the national and local sentiment and behavior should occur, which would have significant impacts on one another, but don’t because local residents and national players are so disconnected that they hardly pay attention to one another. For instance, continuing from Jarrett’s comments; she said, when asked about criticism President Obama is facing regarding discontent some African Americans are expressing, “It’s easy to comment from the sidelines.” She goes on to say “people who are concerned about the Black community should roll up their sleeves and work with us to solve the challenges.”
Ms. Jarrett’s comments again, highlight the crippling disconnect between local and national African Americans in terms of economics, politics and policy, and perhaps most strikingly, communications. It’s not quite so easy to roll up your sleeves and work to address economic and political problems when you must first try to figure out how you’re going to eat and feed, clothe and provide shelter for your family. Here then is one area where the government must direct funds, not cut them. Resources must be directed to teaching people the importance of work, honor and respect, for when these characteristics are in place it’s so much easier to roll up one’s sleeves and look to the problems that are not necessarily directly or immediately one’s own and help. In fact, if we were to create a culture built on such traits, we might find unity and more in common than ever thought we had.
Going forward, the people and the government will need to work more collectively, compromising and collaborating in order to serve the greater good. Politicians will need to move away from their self-serving positions of arrogance to allow themselves to be driven by the people. And the people will have to find ways to participate in political processes that are based on acceptance, love and respect for one another. Without these changes, we are likely to continue to see results that will serve as the beginnings of the fall of our nation; the impact of which will be far more damaging and long-lasting than a down-graded credit score alone. Perhaps then, we should look at what’s happening, or what’s not happening as a signal for us to honestly change the way we conduct ourselves and our politics.